Birthdays and Broccoli: a formula for happy, balanced children.

The curriculum is only a narrow part of the formula for happy, balanced children.

What do we believe is important at Venture Outdoor Kindergarten?

Manners, conversation, confidence, resilience, less technology, more time together with loved ones, discussion/debate, exercise and fresh air, being read to, being loved, taking days off for no particular reason, spending birthdays together, teaching them you can’t solve every problem, mindfulness, kindness and eating your broccoli!

All of these things come from people who love them or who can offer a strong supportive relationship. It is hard for early years settings who have Ofsted’s boot on their necks asking them instead to teach them to read and write and solve mathematical problems before all of the things above have been accomplished. There is no point in a child being able to count if he cannot share. There is no point in teaching a child to read if she has no imagination.

We need to focus on emotional intelligence and mental resilience. The children we are teaching today in early years are going to need to be able to cope in a rapidly changing world.

So what do we at Venture Kindergarten do to ensure that the children are getting what they really need for this uncertain future?

We talk to them, we ask questions and we listen. We teach them to listen to one another and to help each other when they can see someone struggling. We teach them that they need others, a dependable presence to help them in their achievements. We become one of those reliable people and we tell them we are proud of them.

We show understanding when things go wrong and explain why they feel upset. We show them that this is okay and try to think of strategies to help them. We teach them to be independent and to try and do things for themselves, but that it is okay and important to be able to ask for help. We provide an environment where they can learn through play without feeling an adult hovering and watching their every move. We allow them to feel alone and we allow them to make their own decisions.

We stand back and let arguments happen, as we are aware that they need to learn to stand up for themselves. If an adult always steps in they learn to expect this and will always look for a judge. In this situation as well there will always be one child who feels they have had their power/pride taken away. They need to learn how to negotiate.

We talk to the children about how they are learning and improving. We remind them of things they once couldn’t do such as climbing over a gate, using a drill, sawing a piece of wood or packing away their lunch. We tell them they can achieve anything and we continually build their self-esteem. We talk about how it is okay to find things hard thus building up their strength for future challenges.We teach and model optimism which is essential when we are faced with a howling gale and sideways rain as we power up a steep hill. We talk about how good it was to face this, what we have learnt and how much we are now looking forward to our hot chocolate!

We teach them to think outside of the box to come up with crazy ideas and to appreciate different ways of looking at things. We teach them to reframe and to see the positive side of everything. We provide a model by talking to them about real things that have happened to us, allowing them to see that we are just like them. We encourage resilience by showing them that we too have struggles and disappointments and talk about how we overcame them.

We value their opinions and listen carefully to what they have to say, consider it and respond.

We encourage the children to take risks and allow them to judge them for themselves giving them responsibility. We rarely have to tell a child to not climb any higher as they know we are leaving it up to them to decide. We might say “Do you still feel safe up there?” rather than “No, come down!” We allow them to walk a little too far away from us before stopping them to talk about how we would prefer for them to stay closer to us because we would like to keep them safe. We ask them where they feel the boundaries should be, giving them ownership of the decisions. We carry a boundary flag and give them the responsibility for putting it where they think they should stop.

Allowing this freedom also means that they are learning that they can cope when things go wrong. A child who hasn’t had to take risks in early childhood might be reluctant to step up and answer a question in a science lesson or put their name down for the school play, for fear of getting things wrong. We allow the children to get things wrong and show them that it is a good thing, that we also get things wrong and that this is how we learn.

We don’t rush to solve problems for the children. We allow them to cry over cold hands or wet socks. We talk to them about how it feels and we tell them we also have cold hands, but we know that it will be okay. It is easy to worry about a child who is crying and feel that we should quickly step in and resolve everything for them, but then where is the learning? A small amount of adversity and pressure means that they will have better coping skills for stresses and challenges later on.

We are always sensitively observing the children in order to properly understand every individual’s needs. We do not expect any child to do something that they are not ready to do. We, therefore, do not set them up for failure but for achievement.

Jennifer Papenfus
Venture Outdoor Kindergarten. 26-01-19

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